Butterfly Sanctuary Tours (Available mid-November thru mid-March)
Butterfly Guide Joel has been going to see the butterflies since he was a toddler. His father and uncles have worked as forest rangers on the Cerro Pelon reserve his whole life, and Joel has been leading tours to this reserve and others for the last four seasons. His resume includes many years of working in customer service in English. Joel’s siblings Rogelio, Vicente and Ana and U.S.-born spouse Elena also help with tours. Rogelio and Vicente spent many years in the U.S. where they learned rudimentary English. Ana studied English as part of a degree in tourism and recently returned from a stateside sojourn where she gave talks on monarch conservation. Our team members will help you with your horse (should you chose to take one), carry your food and water, and tell you as much as you would like to know about Mexico’s monarch butterfly migration and the history of the reserve. We let you set your own pace, so you can take as little or as much time as you like on your butterfly tour.
Our tours have been featured in the Nobelity Project’s Milkweed Mission (Joel appears at 3:40), the Wichita news, the Belgian reality TV show Bartel’s Beard and in several forthcoming documentaries, including one about about cookbook author Diana Kennedy and another about community organizing against illegal logging.
There are four sanctuaries open to the public, which are described below. Tours are $75 USD per person for Cerro Pelon, and $100 USD for the other three sanctuaries, because of the transportation involved. Cerro Pelon tours begin at 10 am and usually end around 3 in the afternoon.; other tours finish a few hours later. All of the colonies are the same altitude, about 3,000 m, or almost 10,000 feet.
If you just have one day to see butterflies, we recommend visiting Cerro Pelon. (To see why, check out this video by Turk Pipkin from December 16, 2016.)
Cerro Pelon Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Tour
The entry to this sanctuary is a 5 minute walk from our front door. Cerro Pelon is a historic site: it’s where scientists first confirmed that the butterflies that left Canada every year were the same ones that overwintered in the oyamel fir tree forests of the Sierra Madres. It is also, according to many butterfly enthusiasts and the Lonely Planet, the loveliest and most pristine of Mexico’s butterfly roosts. Tour price of $75 USD per person includes entry fee, horse rental, bag lunch, and a bilingual guide.
Cerro Pelon is the least developed and least visited of all of the sanctuaries. Going to see the butterflies here requires a moderate level of physical fitness, or the ability to tolerate riding on the back of a horse for an hour each way. The trail is mostly shady, winding through a mossy forest of fir, pine, cedar, and encino trees. Many say the lushness of the forest itself is worth the visit. If walking, some parts of the trail are level, and others quite steep. Note that the Cerro Pelon colony changes locations every season: visitors’ accounts from last season or the season before may not reflect what it’s like right now.
El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Tour
When scientists figured out in the mid-seventies that the butterflies that arrived in Mexico every winter were the same ones that left Canada every fall, funding for butterfly tourism followed soon after. Joel’s grandfather was in charge of the ejido at the time, and for better or for worse, he refused tourism development funds, and the money went to the creation of El Rosario Biosphere reserve instead. Unlike the unmarked trail that winds up the mountain on Cerro Pelon, here you’ll find endless souvenir stalls, larger tour groups, concrete steps, interpretive signs, and a lot more park rangers making sure you don’t get too close to the colony. In recent years, El Rosario has been the most populous of the butterflies’ overwintering sites. Seeing millions of butterflies flutter back and forth from an open meadow to their treetop clusters is truly impressive. The hike up to the colony is mostly on a paved trail and it takes 30-45 minutes each way, depending on your speed and acclimation. For a faster trip, horses are also available. El Rosario is about an hour and a half away from our B&B. Tour price of $100 USD each includes transportation, entry fee, bag lunch and an English-speaking guide, as well as a stopover to see the pyramids at San Felipe los Altzati.
Piedra Herrada Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Tour
The trip from our place to Piedra Herrada takes you through the small farming villages of the State of Mexico on a road lined with fields of fruit trees and nopal cactuses. Then the road descends into the cosmopolitan colonial gem and weekend resort town, Valle de Bravo, which we visit on the way back. The sanctuary is another half hour down the road from here. The trail begins with a stone path with a separate trail for horses. The hike takes from 45 minutes to an hour each way, and is not so steep until the very end when you approach the colony. Often the colony is situated in such a way that you can get closer to the butterfly-laden trees of Piedra Herrada than you can at El Rosario or Sierra Chincua. Tour price of $100 USD per person includes transportation (at least 2 hours each way), entry fee, bag lunch, an English-speaking guide, and a stop-over in Valle de Bravo.
Sierra Chincua Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Tour
After El Rosario, Sierra Chincua is the most visited butterfly sanctuary and the most accessible of all of the colonies. Most of the ascent is done in car on a road that passes through the scenic village of Angangueo. The trail leading to the butterflies is relatively level, paved in white gravel, and a 30-45 minute walk each way. Unlike the varied foliage on Cerro Pelon, the trees here are almost all oyamel fir trees, making for uniformly dark green vistas. Tour price of $100 USD per person includes transportation (2 hours each way from our place), entry fee, bag lunch and an English-speaking guide and a stopover in Angangueo.
Butterfly Day Trips from Mexico City
If you are in Mexico City and really want to see butterflies but don’t have time for an overnight stay, talk to us about arranging a day trip. Buses leave the Observatorio terminal (also called Poniente) in Mexico City for Zitácuaro every hour. Buy a “directo” ticket with the company called La Linea. The ride takes 2 hours. We can meet you at the terminal at 10:30 am and take you to see El Rosario. Tour price of $115 USD includes pick up and drop off at the terminal, as well as sanctuary entry fee, horse rental (if so desired), lunch, and guide. Add $75 USD for each additional person.
If you want to join us for a Cerro Pelon tour, it’s $75 USD per person, and the transportation to and from the Zitacuaro bus terminal to Macheros is separate. You will need to leave Mexico City super early (6 am) to reach us in time for breakfast and a 10 am tour.